Wednesday, February 9, 2011

iControlPad turns your smartphone into a game controller

A new, clamp-on gaming accessory for iPhones, Android handsets, and other Bluetooth-enabled devices promises to replace troublesome "virtual" on-screen joysticks with real ones, although it could take some time before your favorite mobile games support the device.
First announced way back in 2008, the iControlPad ($75) is finally set to ship this month, and it marks yet another mobile accessory aiming to make touchscreen gaming on smartphone a little less awkward.

The device itself (which I've yet to see in person) consists of a rectangular module with all your familiar gaming controls: a D-pad on the left, a quartet of buttons on the right, two additional buttons in the center (where the "Select" and "Start" controls usually sit), and—most importantly—a pair of analog nubs, meaning no more fumbling with on-screen "virtual" joysticks for first-person shooter games. A 1,500mAh battery powers the controller and provides auxiliary juice to your phone via USB.

The iControlPad comes with a pair of plastic clamps for holding your handset in place—and once all is said and done, you're looking at a contraption that's a little more twice the size of a standard touchscreen smartphone.

Handsets such as the latest iPhones, the BlackBerry Torch, and the LG Optimus S should fit snugly, according to the iControlPad website, although certain devices—including the Motorola Backflip, the Samsung Intercept, and the iPod Touch—may require a little extra padding. (Larger clamps are said to be coming for big-screen smartphones like the Motorola Droid X and the HTC Evo 4G.)

Because the iControlPad relies on a Bluetooth connection, the accessory should be compatible with a wide range of iOS, Android, and even BlackBerry handsets. iPhone users can connect to the iControlPad in Bluetooth keyboard mode, the developer site notes, although it sounds like you may have to jailbreak your phone to get the most out of the controller. Hmmm.

Oh, and one more thing—don't expect to fire up "N.O.V.A. 2" on the iPhone and immediately start blasting away with the iControlPad. While the accessory is "fully working and tested," apps that support the clamp-on controller "may be thin on the ground at first," the developers warn. That said, iControlPad should "just work" on any Android game that supports an external PC gamepad.

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